Science Matters: Using Project Management Principals to Motivate

By Alan Edwards

I wrote here several months ago that managers have the power to dramatically improve a lab’s bottom line by embracing new ways of doing things. I told the story of how one of the biggest game changers in the industry— the automation of manual processes— came about because suppliers chose to look at the customer/lab relationship in a new way.

We continue to experience the benefits of automation every day, but it took much more than an idea to get the industry to its current state. This evolution also took an extraordinary amount of planning and meticulous execution.

Now, consider another idea with the potential for huge rewards—the possibility of running a lab in which your workforce is inspired and motivated every day. Many employment studies over the years have shown that it’s a critical change every organization would benefit from. Why? Because employees who feel more engaged in their jobs and careers, whether it’s as a lab tech or a chief scientific officer, almost always produce better work.

This change is deceptively simple compared with what was obviously the mammoth task of automating virtually every key laboratory process. In reality, however, motivating your staff requires just as much planning and execution to achieve.

The problem is, like almost any kind of change, organizations still find it extremely challenging to get from point A to point B. This isn’t just the case with relatively small businesses, such as independent scientific labs. Huge corporations often experience the same difficulties, especially when it comes to creating the type of culture needed to fully engage the workforce in the organization’s unique mission.

One way to accomplish the goal is to take cues from the principles of project management. Strong leaders and managers who achieve a vibrant and motivated workplace culture usually have one thing in common: they’ve applied the same meticulous steps taken in project management to get them there.

An energized workforce starts with realizing that a culture of success in a workplace is usually what leads to motivation and engagement. So ask what success would look like for your individual lab and what a motivated workforce would look like for all the stakeholders. Would it be a better-engaged workforce in general? Or does there need to be a new business goal, such as an innovative research project, that would significantly contribute to the bottom line while also indirectly leading to more creativity and motivation?

The manager must then take stock of the current state of the lab’s workforce. This might seem like an obvious step, but here too is where most organizations miss the mark. Managers often make the mistake of trying to make too big of a leap too fast and it’s usually because there is no awareness of where they are starting from. If your workforce is not currently in a position to make a huge jump in terms of engagement and motivation, it is unrealistic to think that there can be a significant change within a short amount of time.

Next, you must establish a goal and the clear milestones that need to be met. Roles and responsibilities must be defined—they must be measurable and always in line with the end result you are seeking. Building from that end goal will help you ask the right questions such as what you will really need in terms of people, money, materials, and other resources to reach your goal. If your goal is a new business plan or research project that is likely to more fully engage your workforce, provide the necessary training for each milestone and make sure you reward your employees when those milestones are met.

Also, the project services of a workforce solutions company can often help if you feel your management resources will be spread too thin in trying to reach your goal. If you believe the change is going to have a heavy enough impact, this kind of outside help ensures the project will be successful.

Ultimately, you must treat the goal of motivating and engaging your employees like any other project that requires systematic steps in order to be implemented correctly. It’s a classic aspect of project management. Those small changes can often lead to one large change, such as the motivated workforce you are seeking, but only if you are able to manage and execute the smaller steps successfully along the way.

Published In

What Motivates Your Employees Magazine Issue Cover
What Motivates Your Employees

Published: September 9, 2011

Cover Story

What Motivates Your Employees?

It is ever more difficult to argue that motivating knowledge workers is not the Holy Grail for 21st century lab managers. “Leadership,” according to management consultants, “is the process of motivating people to work together to accomplish great things."
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